Most of my childhood summers were spent in two activities: preparing food or going to church. Whether Mother and I were cooking dinner (the noon meal) for a farm crew or canning and freezing vegetables, we were constantly in the back yard shucking and stringing or in the kitchen cooking.
But some days were spent on a tractor or wheat combine. I loved working with my dad—climbing up into the small platform with its little bench to sit on while watching the wheat being cut by the large blade near the ground. Then the combine would miraculously spit out the grains of wheat through a small chute into the burlap bag I’d attached to the opening. The chute was shaped like an inverted Y, and while one bag was being filled, I’d tightly fasten another one to that side of the chute. Then I’d watch eagerly for the moment when I could switch the lever, cutting off the flow of grain into the full bag and sending it into the empty one. I let the bag fill as much as possible, still leaving room to tie it before sending it down the short slide (yes, much like a playground one!) to the ground. Later Daddy would drive the tractor and wagon to pick up the bags of wheat to store in the barn until they were sold at the grain elevator.
It was hot, sticky work, and the chaff would stick to my sweaty skin, but I didn’t mind. It was something I did with my dad—just the two of us, working to feed the family. I enjoyed it so much more than working in the house. By the time I was ten, Daddy and I would switch roles so that I got to drive the tractor while he tied. It gave each of us some variety, and I was proud that he would trust me to drive.
The evenings, though, were quite different. My father, though a summer farmer and a school-year science teacher, had a gift for singing–especially for leading enthusiastic congregational singing. For several summers, during the height of interest in “gospel meetings” in our area of Tennessee in the fifties, he was hired by neighboring congregations to come for every service to lead singing. I realized that the money he was paid for this work was a great blessing to our family, but the primary blessing for me was when I got to go alone with Daddy to church.
It would start by being excused from washing the supper dishes so I could “get dressed for church.” Crinolines under full skirts were the norm, hovering over shiny black patent leather shoes and white, lace-edged anklets. I would use a left-over biscuit to shine my shoes and carefully groom myself to look my most presentable for going with Daddy alone.
We never listened to the car radio on the way, but instead would talk about our day. Somehow, even after the evening’s family dinner conversation, we still had plenty to discuss. Sometimes he would ask me to go through the hymnal and select the hymns for that night. I’d carefully write the numbers and titles on a small piece of paper that he’d tuck in his book.
Our church sang a cappella, and Daddy used an A tuning fork to get his pitch before each song. I’d heard others marvel at how he could unobtrusively tap his book cover, get the pitch, and start the song perfectly. I was disdainful of song leaders who had to use a pitch pipe and mess around with it, distracting everyone, until they could get the right pitch. I was sure Daddy’s skill with the tuning fork was one reason he was in such demand.
Various congregations would plan their meetings around Daddy’s schedule as well as those of the preachers who came from out of town. Of course we were from out of town, too—out of any town, because we lived deep in the country, seven miles from even a small town.
Often we passed through Franklin, Kentucky, on our way home, and Daddy would stop at the “Dairy Dip” to get us chocolate soft-serve ice cream. When my mother and brothers were along we’d rarely stop, but when it was just the two of us, ice cream was automatic.
Daddy died suddenly of a heart attack in 1984, just after my thirty-ninth birthday. It was a tough time for all of us. On June 24, he would have been 95. Seems unfair, since both his parents and his two siblings lived past 95. But that loss has made me a stronger person and has helped me to understand losses that others suffer.
When I think of those private times with my father, I have few memories of what we talked about. I just remember that he always listened, always had just the right response, always made me feel not simply loved, but treasured. Because of him, I have never doubted that I am also loved and treasured by my heavenly father. And because of my earthly father’s devotion to his God, I look forward to a celestial reunion with both fathers.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. Psalm 1:1-2